The do’s and don’ts of wearing masks and gloves during COVID-19

It’s now compulsory to wear masks when you go out in public. Sister Burgie Ireland gives some helpful tips on how to wear your mask and discloses why wearing gloves is not recommended.


The best thing you can do for yourself and your family during COVID-19 is to take protective measures. This means staying home, covering your nose and mouth in public and washing your hands after touching surfaces. But it doesn’t help to wear a mask that keeps slipping off so that you have to keep touching your face to put it back in place. And let’s face it, some masks are really scratchy and uncomfortable – it can even end up giving you a headache!

So, what’s the ideal mask and how do you wear it?

Why wear face masks?

Masks are worn to stop infected people spreading germs to uninfected people. Now that we’re in stage 4 of the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s mandatory to wear face masks in public. As a result, we’re seeing a variety of home-made cloth masks, bandannas and scarves – even socks, T-shirts and wash-cloths being worn by the public. Plastic visors are also in vogue.

But what should we be wearing and why?

Wouldn’t it be great if we were all supplied with proper disposable, surgical masks? Unfortunately, this is not possible. Even in countries where they’re manufactured, demand exceeds supply and, right now, disposable masks are needed for our brave frontline medical and rescue professionals.

We need to wear face masks because people infected with COVID-19 spread viral particles into the air when they breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. The virus spreads by droplet infection – much the same way as Chicken Pox and other viral infections. These particles are spread by the millions when people breathe, but more so when they cough and especially when they sneeze. Researchers have found that smaller, lighter particles can reach as far as 4 metres.

Another insecurity when we’re in public is that many people are asymptomatic. This means they don’t feel or show any signs of infection. Called ‘super-spreaders’ they unintentionally spread viruses wherever they go. People are also infectious during the incubation period which varies from 2 to 14 days. These people may not feel ill or show any symptoms during this timeline, but they can spread the virus.

How long the virus lives on surfaces is debatable, and this also depends on its structure. Research has shown that the virus survives for longer on a hard surface – like a table top – than it does on a porous surface – like paper or cardboard. The range varies from hours to days.

In some countries like the Netherlands, people aren’t wearing masks at all while in other countries, like China, they’ve been wearing them since the 2002 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak.

ALSO SEE: 13 COVID-19 questions answered

How effective are cloth masks?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing low-cost, homemade cloth masks as an additional health measure. This includes plastic face shields.

Effective cloth masks should comfortably cover the nose and mouth to below the chin. While they should be porous enough not to smother the wearer, they shouldn’t be thin enough to blow out a match. Industrious people with sewing machines are making and selling homemade cloth masks, but these need to fit a universal, specific criteria.

They should fit securely and comfortably enough without moving or slipping off the nose when talking

Tie masks are best because one-size-fits all. Ear-loop face-masks made from either elastic or material tend to come loose when people talk, they interfere with the earpiece of glasses and hearing aids. Ear-loop face-masks are not one-size-fits all.

The correct way to secure a tie mask is to fit the nose ties first behind the back of the head. The mask is then pulled down over the chin, and these ties are secured to the top of the head. In this way the mask fits comfortably and won’t move when talking. Any viruses are caught in the material of the mask rather than it spreading into the environment.

Masks should be carefully removed without touching the material, then left in a sunny spot for at least 20 minutes

You need at least 2 masks so that one can be washed.

How to make a cloth mask:

You need:

  • 1 quilting cotton material square measuring 20cm x20cm
  • 2 sheeting cotton material squares measuring 20cm x 20cm each
  • 160 cm cotton tape cut into 2 pieces (each measuring 80cm in length)

Here’s how you make it:

  1. Iron the 3 layers of material squares together.
  2. Overlock the edges.
  3. Fold over and hem the top and bottom of the mask.
  4. Fold the sides of the mask wide enough for the tape to thread through, then stitch.
  5. Use a safety pin to thread the tape through the sides of the mask and gather. Secure these gathers with a hand stitch.

ALSO SEE: Why face masks are not safe for babies and toddlers

Face shields or plastic visor masks

Plastic shields are becoming popular, especially for people who wear glasses or who feel breathless when they wear a face mask. These should be long enough to cover the chin, and should, ideally, be worn with a face mask. This is because people unintentionally rub their noses when wearing a face-shield. People with COVID-19 can spread the virus with a face shield. This is because heavier droplets fall onto immediate surfaces and only vapour droplets are caught by the shield.

We’re not allowed to go into public places without wearing a mask. It’s the responsibility of every individual to stop the spread of COVID-19. Today we know that it’s not only the elderly and immune-compromised who are at risk – everybody is.  This means, cover up when you go out.

Gloves don’t help – here’s why

Disposable gloves are in short supply and they’ve been put aside for medical and emergency personnel. As a result, many people are using non-disposable woollen, cotton, leather or rubber gloves. Not only are they bulky and cumbersome, they collect germs easily, which are then spread from one surface to another. I’ve even seen people using their teeth to take them of – a definite no-no!

Hands are so much quicker and easier to wash than gloves. The recommended washing time is 20 seconds, and malls are providing washstands for shoppers to do this. If you’re worried about touching contaminated surfaces, wet a baby-wipe or a piece of disposable kitchen towelling with some diluted Jik and hold onto it to wipe your hands as often as you need to.

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